Excessive digital connections dull kids’ emotions

Excessive digital connections dull kids’ emotions

Kids today are constantly engaged with digital technology. They even use it to engage in social interactions complete with emoticons to show feelings. New research findings, however, reveal that this constant digital interaction is dulling kids’ ability to detect genuine human emotion from good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction.

According to a study published in the October print edition of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, children’s social skills are not nearly as sharp as they need to be due to a growing use of digital media.

Researchers from UCLA found that sixth-graders who had no interaction with any type of digital screens were considerably better able to read human emotions than their peers from the same school who spent countless hours on digital devices.

“The risk in spending so much time on digital devices is that kids are not going to be good at relationships, especially when meeting new people, such as new peers and new adults, and looking toward the future, it can make job interviews and work settings difficult,” says Kris Umfress, a licensed clinical psychologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“Other new situations will be hard as well, and it’s awkward if social interaction is not a practiced skill,” she adds.

Measure of emotions
To measure how well social interaction improved without the digital components, researchers examined more than 100 sixth-graders from Southern California public schools for five days. Of those, 51 students attended a nature and science camp that doesn’t allow the use of electronic devices. The rest of the students did not attend the camp until later after the study was completed.

At the start and end of the study, researchers evaluated both groups to determine their ability to recognize other people’s emotions in photos and videos. They then tracked how many errors both groups made when trying to identify these emotions.

When studying photos the first time, students at camp made an average of 14 errors, and by the end of the study made an average of 9.41. When watching videos, the camp students improved quite a bit while those who did not attend the camp showed no change. Results were equal among both boys and girls.

Strike a balance
Umpress says balancing screen time with face time starts with the parents. “I’m a parent and it’s hard, but I think it’s about being extremely intentional about setting up time with no screens,” says Umpress.

She also stresses the idea that parents must be the model for behavior. So, for example, at mealtime when families usually interact socially, perhaps parents say, “No digital screens allowed,” whether at home or out at a restaurant. “This applies to kids, teens and parents, and everyone must follow suit,” says Umpress.

Other ideas to help kids disconnect that Umpress recommends include no screen time Monday through Thursday, unless it’s school-related. This ends the battle to rush through schoolwork to get to non-school-related screen time. Umpress herself even reserves one day each week where no one in the family can use digital screens. She says the results are noticeable.

“I see positive effects, which include more creativity, more physical exertion, and if it becomes a routine, then there’s an acceptance of it,” she says.

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  1. Lisa Parro

    I agree with the “no devices at the table” rule and am very strict about it at our house.

    • I’d go further: nobody under the age of a high-school freshman should have a cell phone. That’s just vanity (yes, a pager with GPS should be quite enough for parents to communicate with and find their kids), and kids at home should be forced to share one computer permanently parked in the family room — so that parents can keep an eye on who’s using the computer and for how long. THEN set limits as to when and how often the kids may use the computer for anything other than homework. No iPods,TVs, etc., while homework is being done. And none of this crap about kids having their own TVs in their rooms, either! Your parents and your grandparents survived just fine without that. Live with it. Parents aren’t supposed to be their kids’ friends: they’re supposed to be *parents* until after their kids reach adulthood. Never mind that your son sulks over these rules and that your daughter hates you — they’ll do better in school, they’ll get over it, and they’ll thank you once they marry and have their own kids. Oh, and you can allow them unlimited access to one thing: library books. No kid can read enough of those.

      • Interesting thoughts, M.R. Traska! I think limits are very important for kids of all ages. And I especially love that you expand the limits for library books. That’s genius!

  2. Lynn Hutley

    Good for you, Lisa. Setting consistent limits is very helpful and when we are in public settings, I try to make sure that my children engage with adults.

  3. Excellent article. I set a rule for my 12 year old granddaughter that there would be no digital connection while we are in the car. We aren’t together in the car that often, but we must talk about something, summer camp, her new school, time tables, or something other that a social media connection.

  4. First of all, being bored at work does pay well if you have a smartphone and you browse through blogs.
    Amazing information with facts thoughtfully incorporated within. Definitely going to come back for more! 🙂

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.